In the high-octane world of rally driving, Japan is renowned more for its cars than its drivers. Mitsubishi, Subaru and Honda roll off the tongue much more readily than the names of pilots like Arai, Nutahara and Tajima. But the island nation’s rally competitors do have a strong track record of competing overseas – a tradition Motoharu Kaseya and Kohei Izuno will continue when they start the RSAC Scottish Rally this coming Saturday.
It has been over ten years since a Japanese crew entered Scotland’s flagship motor rally, which has been running since 1932. Despite a very strong grass-roots following, rallying in Kaseya and Izuno’s homeland has a relatively low public profile – Motoharu’s hometown of Shonan is better known as the Japanese capital of surfing, and Kohei lives in the shadow of the Olympic ski-jump in Nagano.
Both accomplished drivers in their own right, Kaseya and Izuno actually fought as rivals on last year’s World Championship round in New Zealand, the latter winning the battle for supremacy on the stages on that occasion. For the trip to Scotland, however, Kohei will pick up the pace notes as he looks to help the K’s World Rally Team – of which both he and Motoharu are members – score a good result on their first sojurn to Europe.
The K’s World Rally Team has competed successfully at a high level in Asia, Africa and Australasia, and for the trip to Scotland they have entrusted car preparation duties to Lancashire-based EuroRallye. It is EuroRallye’s Honda Civic Type R that the Japanese crew will be piloting over the seventy miles of Dumfries and Galloway forest stages that make up the Scottish Rally.
“After a good result in New Zealand last year, I felt it was time for a new challenge, and the opportunity to compete in Scotland sounded very exciting”, explains Motoharu Kaseya. “It would probably be too much to think I can win the rally, but I am looking forward to trying a new environment and above all enjoying myself. My team have a good relationship with EuroRallye, so I know we will be in good hands.”
“I have read about the history of the Scottish Rally, and am very proud to have the opportunity to enter a rally that people like Colin McRae and Ari Vatanen have won in the past,” adds co-driver Izuno. “This is my first time to come to Scotland, so once all the hard work of the rally is done I want to make sure I try haggis as well!”
“Both Motoharu and Kohei have done World Championship rallies, so they are mentally prepared for competing in a different country,” believes K’s World Rally Team boss Kazuya Suzuki, himself a former champion navigator in Japan. “But I think the Scottish will be much more intense than anything they have faced before. It is going to be a very long day of rallying, and because the stages are so close together there is not much time for rest. The Scottish is certainly going to push them to the limit!”
The RSAC Scottish Rally takes place on Saturday 29 June. It is a counter in both the British and Scottish Rally Championships, featuring seventy miles of action over nine special stages. Competitors from Norway, Finland and Sri Lanka will be among those taking on the K’s World Rally Team for honours.